If celebrating and learning about your dead ancestors sounds incredibly boring, please, don’t stop reading here. If you’ll bear with me for the next few minutes of reading, you can learn how this activity, which is celebrated every Pioneer Day in Utah, can be a source of light and joy that you may not have experienced before. 

Strictly speaking, Pioneer Day is an official Utah holiday that celebrates when Brigham Young—the second prophet and president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—and the pioneers who were with him entered the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847. This event marked the beginning of settlements in what would later become the 45th state in the United States. Many of the people who now live in Utah have ancestors that came with one of several companies traveling West that consisted largely of members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or Latter-day Saints, who were heavily persecuted in some of the Eastern states during that time. 


My fourth great aunt is second from the right on the bottom row.

She crossed the plains at the age of 9 


That’s the technical definition of Pioneer Day, but it doesn’t quite get at the heart of the holiday. Pioneer Day celebrates the story of our ancestors. Whether they physically crossed the American prairie or not, we commemorate all of our ancestors, particularly those who sacrificed deeply for us, their descendants. 


My great-great-grandmother who slept on the floor to avoid gunfire 

More pictures of her in different outfits

The stories of our ancestors are unique sources of inspiration. If many of my third and fourth-great grandparents could literally walk 1,300 miles across the United States—the equivalent of almost 50 marathons—then I can definitely endure my Physical Science 100 class. If my great-great-grandmother could sleep on the floor when men would ride by on horseback and shoot into the house because of her family’s religious beliefs, how can I complain when I don’t get enough sleep on busy nights? If my great-grandfather was so shy that he wouldn’t come out to his wedding ceremony and the preacher came and married my great-grandparents in their car, then I know I’m not alone when it comes to being a bit quiet. 


My great-grandfather who was shy 

I love these stories because it’s almost as if my ancestors are reaching across time to support me. Their strength strengthens me. Their courage encourages me. Their endurance gives me the patience to do the same. The stories of our ancestors show us the stuff we’re made of. I’m certain, if you search, you will find your own stories of beautiful heroism, courage, and more in your past. Of course, there are some not-so-heroic ancestors in your line, but there are things you can learn from them too. Ask your parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts for stories about their own parents and grandparents. As you do, your ancestors will become more than just flat, silent, black-and-white photographs. They will become real, with true human depth and colorful lives. Your ancestors lived, breathed, laughed, cried, sang, cooked, got bored, had fun, made mistakes, worried, struggled with stress, endured sleepless nights, and had fears, hopes, and dreams, just like you. I promise you there’s something beautiful just waiting to be found in your grandparent’s attic, the dusty basement closet, or in the dinnertime stories of your grandparents. Just take a look. 



My fourth great uncle who crossed the plains when he was 10

This is him again on the left. Not sure what is happening here 

Learning about the past also links you to something bigger than yourself. You learn that you are not simply a random coincidence of fate. Many of your ancestors sacrificed, starved, sweated, saved, and suffered so that their descendants—including you—could live a better life than they did and so you could then help those who are seeking for the same blessings. You are part of something majestic—a painting, a tapestry, a symphony that is your genealogy. What role will you play it in it? When your body trembles with age and your joints ache from years of use, what will you leave this earth having done? What lives will you impact? What change will you bring about? What epitaph do you want carved on your tombstone and in the hearts of all that knew you? What legacy of love and light will you leave? I hope this isn’t sounding too morbid. I simply mention these things with the hope that you’ll consider the role you will play in your family’s legacy. 


The woman at the bottom left is my fourth great-grandmother

She crossed the plains when she was 11 

In the end, family history is all about connection. One analogy that I love is the idea that our family tree is more like a huge vine, branching off into the past. When we connect to this vine, we receive strength from all the other branches that are connected. That strength is called love. In the end, family history is simply forming connections of love to your past as you learn who your ancestors were—their lives and stories. You can also form connections of love with those in your present—with friends and family and strangers. You can even connect to the future generations through your lasting influence. Through all these connections, your life will become filled with more and more love, and the more love you have, the more happiness and peace you will feel each day. It’s what makes life worth living. And that’s worth celebrating. 

We would love to help you get started. If you’d like to create a free FamilySearch account to help map out your family tree and do many other family history activities go to https://www.familysearch.org/register/custom/1

If you’d like to learn more about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and gain a better understanding of the principles that motivate and inspire us here, please visit ComeUntoChrist.org.


by Kelson Roney

July 23, 2019 — Heirloom Art & Co.


Lesa Carter said:

Thank you for sharing this touching reminder of where I come from and those loved ones who persevered so I could be here!

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